Alexander Gillies

by Bessie (Simpson) Harris pg 310 Big Hill Country 1977

Alexander Gillies and his wife, who had been Mary Gillies of Morar, came to the Cochrane district from Inverness-shire, Scotland, in October, 1884. With them they brought their six children, John, Jessie, Kate, Mary, Alexandrina and Duncan. Annie was born at Cochrane and a little son, Donald, died in infancy. Mary Gillies made her husband keep travelling west till they found hills that looked like those of Scotland. They were undoubtedly influenced, too, by the fact that A. W. McDonald, who was married to Alexander’s sister, had been in the district since 1881. They stayed with the McDonalds while they built a small shack by the spring on the Mount Royal picnic grounds. There they lived while building the log house close to the east bank of the Ghost River. Both Alexander Gillies and his

Mrs. and Mr. Alexander Gillies

son, John, homesteaded near the Ghost River and had, altogether, a section and a half of land. They raised both horses and cattle. This place has always been known as the Ghost River Ranch. 

One day Alexander was away getting outbuilding logs and his wife was alone with the small children. She had just taken a pan of scones out of the oven when a big Indian with a gun appeared at the door with two or three companions behind him. Naturally, she was frightened. The Indian [sic] pointed at the pan of scones so she put them in his sack. A couple of weeks later the Indian [sic] came back and brought her a beautiful set of buffalo horns. These were hung at the front of the ranch house. From then on, the Gillies and the Indians [sic] remained very good friends.

Gillies home : Ghost River L to R Don Simpson, Alex Simpson, Jim Murphy, Enie Gillies, Eva, Irene and Helen Murphy, Jim Simpson

Alexander Gillies died in 1922. Mary, with John and Annie, moved into Cochrane after the ranch was sold. They lived in the house built by Mr. Tesky for Joe Murphy. Mary Gillies died in 1935. 

The following was written in May 1922, by Hugh Farthing, an old friend of the family: 

“During the early days in the West, Alexander Gillies’ strong, courageous personality and straightforward dealing endeared him to the hearts of all with whom he came in contact. Friends and strangers alike 

John and Annie Gilliles (standing) Mr and Mrs Gillies, and Duncan

were always sure of a hearty welcome and true Highland hospitality at the Ghost River Ranch. 

“The little cemetery at Cochrane is a fitting resting place for such an old-timer as he. Far below, the silver thread of the Bow River winds its way through the wooded slopes of the foothills he loved so well, and in the distance the Rockies, majestic and unchanged as when he first saw them thirty-eight years ago, complete one of the most wonderful pictures in the world.” 

John remained a bachelor. Jessie married John McPhail and their children were Lawrence, Mamie, Wallace and Alice. Kate married Alvin Rellinger. They had five children: Mary, Herbert, Alice, Josie and Catherine. Mary married William Simpson. The Simpson children were: James, Donald, Alexander, Edward, William, Bessie, Duncan and Theresa. Mary Simpson died in 1969. Duncan married Josie Elliott. They had no children. Alexandrina married Roland Gissing. They, too, had no children. Annie remained single.

Mary and Katy Gillies

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4 thoughts on “Alexander Gillies”

  1. Alexander and Mary are my Great grandparents. I live further up the Ghost River and am very grateful that they chose to come here. A W McDonald father of DP McDonald was married to Alexander’s sister and there are pictures of the two families at Glenfinnan Ranch at a family gathering where my father James is a young child. Patricia ( Simpson) MacMillan

  2. When my Dad (Frank Opdebeck) first came to manage the Cochrane Hotel in 1955 or 1956 my two brothers and myself stayed with Miss Gillis and Mrs. Gissing. My Mom was sick in hospital. I remember having oatmeal porridge every morning. Also remember having my ringlets done by the ladies. Wasn’t Roland Gissing a famous artist?


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